Gwen loves it when the birds appear in her garden. She saw a goldfinch recently. With its brilliant yellow wings and red head, it was an unusual sight and provided a flash of difference in an otherwise monotonous day.
“I make sure I’ve got bird feed, so they don’t run out,” she tells us. “It’s nice to feed them, isn’t it?” Aside from “pottering” in the garden with her feathered friends, 78-year-old Gwen’s daily routine is one of distractions and simple pleasures. “I play on my tablet, watch a bit of telly, have lunch then have an afternoon nap,” she explains. “Other than that, not a lot.”
A new life – with new challenges
Gwen has had a full life. She once owned a wine bar and has run a fish and chip shop and has travelled extensively. But since moving to a quiet part of Devon in 2017, life has become less busy. While the countryside might be idyllic for some, it also became the setting for an increasing sense of isolation and loneliness, with mobility issues compounding those challenges. It’s also a world away from Singapore, where Gwen grew up – a place of heat and vibrancy – and the culture shock of that difference lasts to this day.
Gwen’s daughter and grandson don’t live too far away, but rarely have time to visit, so she has only her beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Nellie, for consistent company. “Bless her – she’s as good as gold but doesn’t chat back.”
Although Gwen enjoys the peace and quiet of retirement and isn’t someone who craves company, there’s no doubt that something was missing from her life: conversation. Intelligent conversation, mind – not just what you’re having for dinner tonight. “I’m not interested in what you’re having for tea,” she laughs. “Tea is just something you get out of the freezer.” Instead, Gwen wants to discuss her huge range of passions – for everything from books (non-fiction rather than fiction) to Formula 1 racing. But she’s also conscious that older people need to be vigilant. “It’s a shame that, especially today, you must be careful who you let into your home.”
Holly’s a treasure. Our chats always cheer me up.
A quieter Christmas
Gwen has fond memories of Christmas. When she was in Singapore, her family would all receive a new set of clothes they would proudly put on. And later, when her daughter was a child, she loved watching her excitement in the morning when she opened her presents. Life has changed a lot since then, though. “Christmas isn’t the same as it used to be,” Gwen reflects. Gwen will put up a tree for her grandson’s benefit, but that’s about it.
Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year – and weekends have long been a challenge for Gwen. While local people in the area are around in the week, creating a sense of hustle and bustle she can see from her window, weekends are when everyone heads out of town, seeing friends and family, getting away from it all. Not Gwen, though. For her, weekends are “a struggle” - particularly Sundays. “There’s nothing on the telly and it’s one of those days where unless you’re going out somewhere, it’s a nothing day.”
Finding a friend
Thankfully, as Gwen’s feelings of loneliness and isolation deepened, she turned to Age UK for help. She was soon matched with Holly, a volunteer telephone friend, through the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service. They enjoy regular chats about books, family and the differences between Devon and where Holly lives in London. Plus, exchanging views and perspectives with someone who’s much younger has been “refreshing” for Gwen and made all the difference.
“Holly’s a treasure,” she beams. “Our chats always cheer me up. I think there’s a danger that I would feel very lonely and rather out on a limb otherwise, so I’m grateful for our friendship. It makes a huge difference to chat every week. Our chats are such a positive thing in my life.”